New PARMA Artists: Fry Street Quartet

·     In advance of the upcoming album from Fry Street Quartet: THE CROSSROADS PROJECT, featuring the music of Libby Larsen and Laura Kaminsky, we spoke with Rebecca McFaul (violin) about the project’s origins, message, and vision for the planet:

Robert Waters (violin), Rebecca McFaul (violin), Anne Francis Bayless (cello), Bradley Ottesen (viola)

            When and how did Fry Street Quartet form?

Fry Street is one block north of Chicago Avenue in Chicago, IL.  In 1997 the group rehearsed in a small apartment in the neighborhood once ruled by Al Capone, but clearly it was time for a string quartet to claim it for their own ;-).

·         What main catalysts led to the development of “The Crossroads Project”?

The concept was first brought forth by physicist Dr. Robert Davies, who had been working to communicate the science of climate change to the general public and was grappling with the sense that his audiences understood the information intellectually, but were not taking it in on a visceral, emotional level — the very levels that are more likely to lead to changes in behavior.  As a frequent concertgoer, he had often shown up to concerts with puzzles still buzzing in his mind from a day’s work in the lab, and found that listening to music often unlocked his thinking in new, very helpful directions.  It was this experience that led him to wonder if he couldn’t plant the topic (or “puzzle”) in the audience member’s mind, and then unleash music as a part of the presentation in order to provide space for emotional and personal contemplation of the topic.  He approached us, the resident string quartet at his institution (Utah State University) and pitched the notion to us.  As concerned citizens on this topic, we were eager to explore how our art form might contribute to the societal conversation.

·         Where did the title “Crossroads” originate?

The title came from an earlier talk of Rob’s which used the word to illustrate the fork in the road that we’re currently at — the fork that shows that there is still time to make a substantial difference if we employ aggressive mitigation efforts juxtaposed with climate models that follow a “business as usual” emissions scenario.

·         What led you to reach out to Laura Kaminsky and Libby Larsen for the project?

Laura has a long track record of writing on environmental and social justice themes, and we were honored that she was willing to hop on board in support of our larger idea for Crossroads.  After hearing Libby give a talk and meeting with her, there was a synergy in our conversation about the power of music and its ability to have a voice in larger societal conversations that made her the perfect fit to continue our exploration of these themes.

·         What would you say is similar and what would you say is different about the two works on the program?
This is from Rob (Davies) — which in a roundabout way addresses your question with eloquence, I think:
Laura Kaminsky
I believe it’s the combination of words, imagery and music, in this case, that carries the power.  In Rising Tide the words and imagery impose a compelling theme theme, impossible to ignore… and then the music takes that theme for a spin in the minds of the audience, bending and twisting it differently within each person.  That only happens because of the music, because the score was created by Laura Kaminsky with this theme ― with these very words and images ― in mind… and because this score is being actively interpreted by musicians who, again, are doing so specfically with these words and images at the front of their minds.  As an example, I think it’s impossible to sit through the Bios soliloquy, and then think of anything but the creation of life ― of little critters bouncing and popping into existence ― during the opening of Kaminsky’s Bios movement.  Or sit through the Forage soliloquy, and not hear the excitement and the frenzy of a vast biosphere feeding itself, keeping itself going, in Kaminsky’s Forgage movement.
Libby Larsen

In the case of Emergence, the music plays something of a different role ― not the voice of nature as contemplative space, but the voice of nature as an active participant in a conversation with humanity.  Again, I think it would be impossible to sit through the words and imagery and not hear Nature raging at humanity in Larsen’s third movement, Nature’s pain and pleading with humanity in Larsen’s fourth movement, or the true rhythm of nature in Larsen’s fifth movement.
·         Beyond the music, what can listeners expect to see when they attend “The Crossroads Project” live in concert (and through the artwork on your album’s catalog page)?

Listeners can expect to see beautiful – and sometimes difficult — imagery that connects us to the topic visually.  Work from photo journalists, compelling graphs to help us internalize the information, and gorgeous abstract works by RebeccaAllan are all supporting players in the experience.
Also from Rob Davies — loosely connecting to your question:
Like the natural world itself, these performances have emerged quite organically from the strengths of the constituent species ― the musicians, composers, visual artists, actors, staging artists, and myself, the scientist.  It is often said that the law of nature is survival of the fittest.  But this is a fundamental misreading; in truth it is survival of the fittest collaborators.  These performances have emerged from a highly collaborative process and as such, stand as a metaphor for how we can approach our sustainability challenges, how we can re-wire our relationship with the natural world.  Audiences don’t just take in information, they experience it, feel it, and have a chance to sit with it in the Crossroads performances, free of the political baggage it often comes with. And it is the music, the visuals, and the spare prose that really connect them to the science.

·         Where and when will the next live performance of “The Crossroads Project” take place?

University of Utah, February 24 and 25, 2017.

·         What would you most like listeners to take away from their experience?

A sense that we live in an utterly interconnected world, and that humans and society live inside nature’s paradigm, not apart from it.  Understanding that notion on a deep level inspires one to see and behave in the world differently….

THE CROSSROADS PROJECT will be released on 9/9/16. 

Please see the sampler below for a track from the upcoming album, check out the NPR interview here for more info:

and pre-order on iTunes here!

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